Sunday, 23 May 2010

Roland Garros: Not a Preview.

Here’s a thought: Don’t do a RG Preview.


Focus instead on this pic, mostly because Fed-i-ra seems to have a hint of mischief about him.

Like he’s about to do that very tired party gag where he feels around the cup for a while before pretending to have his hand chewed off by Jaws. That’s right, the one your Uncle Charlie would always think was so funny, and you’d feel obliged to laugh at.

I’m seated in my garden on one of those unbearably hot days that forces even the butterflies to scramble for cover and even that shrivelling turd the neighbour’s cat was nice enough to deposit on your lawn last night now seems to demand a better spot.

It’s a day for many things, but not, I’m afraid, for draw analysis.

………*drifts off to sleep*……….................



……… “*#fa c*n #e #*#te* o# *l#y”………

……… “R#fa can be #e#ten o# cl#y”……….

Me: …

WP: I said - Rafa can be beaten on clay.

Me (coming round): Mmm?

WP: I’m trying to tell you something important.

[Seeing Warped Pete hovering over me]

Me: …oh it’s you again…have I snoozed off?

WP: ‘fraid so….I was about to tell you why I’ve never believed Rafa to be unbeatable on clay.

Me: Wow - that’s almost as good an ice breaker as "How d'ye do? Come and have a bathe." You know in….

WP: I know, I know Freddy Honeychurch in ‘A Room with a View’ would you pay attention already – this is important.

Me: Well…[getting up from deck chair and rubbing face]…since the last time I was here some people I’d told about you made a list of questions they wanted me to put to you. [Splashes face with water] I was kinda hoping to ask you those….

WP: It’s RG tomorrow and I wanna talk about how beatable Rafa is - and not just by Soderling either….

Me: *staring sceptically* Look, I realise strange things happened last year….

WP: Stranger things have happened you might say?

Me: ….and I further realise, I should expect the unexpected in this other-worldly-dreamy-realm thingy you run here - contorted landscapes, melting clocks, that sort of thing…

WP: I’ve been here eons, and I’ve never seen a melting clock.

Me: The point is…we’re back to where we started - “full circle” as 2hander would say.

WP: two-hander?

Me: know, that bloke on my blog.

WP: I know, I know…just [lowers voice] we’re not allowed to use numbers in names around here.

Me: ???

WP: We’re not allowed to mention any incidences of under arm serving at the French Open either. One of the peculiarities that comes of living on the edge of darkness…

Me: And yet, you can’t understand why I might expect to see melting clocks!?

WP: …

Me: Never mind. So, Rafa?

WP: Yeah look – he’s always been beatable. It’s just that up until last year, no one – not even he himself – dared bet against that ridiculous aura he’d created.

Me: That’s it? That’s all you have for me? I’m meant to return home with “that ridiculous aura”?

WP: It’s a little more complicated than that….

Me: I should hope so…

WP: When he’s in control of his game, with all the confidence and mastery that implies, what do you notice about his play?

Me: He grunts louder than normal?

WP: He hits those loopier-than-loopy, curvy-curvaceous shots so thickly spread with topspin, coming in at such a high trajectory, you’d be right in thinking it’s headed out.

Me: And yet it lands on your shoelaces, or on the baseline – I know the ones.

WP: Right – and when he’s hitting those sorts of balls shot after shot, it doesn’t matter that he’s stationed three feet behind the baseline….

Me: ….because he can muscle in behind his penetrating loopies…

WP: …and it doesn’t matter whether he’s standing on a clay, grass or hard court. We are on the same page!

Me: Not quite – as I recall Rafa kinda struggles on hard courts.

WP: It’s all about confidence.

Me: Isn’t everything?

WP: When he loses confidence….the balls begin to land shorter. It’s not all in his hands of course - a faster hard court gives more of an opportunity for a flat hitter to out muscle him – which in turn causes him to pitch shorter still…

Me: …and round and round she goes. And that advantage doesn’t exist on clay presumably?

WP: Well….not quite. You see, what happened last year shows us you can hit Rafa off a clay court by deep balling him. And in theory a Soderling, a Djokovic – the style of play you say is taking over the game on all surfaces – might do the same.

Me: Then?

WP: Now here’s where it gets interesting because they’ve not made the splash they did last year – at least not yet.

Me: Wait a sec – just coz it happened last year, doesn’t mean it will happen this year – or ever again.

WP: There’s more…

Me: Let’s hear it then.

WP: Rafa’s won three Masters events, but he’s only once had to face the type of opponent you might call his worst fear.

Me: That match against Ernie in Rome?

WP: Right. Flat and hard – just the way he dislikes ‘em.

Me: There were drop shots too. But he also played Federer, no?

WP: Not his worst fear, and a match you characterised as an erratic grumpfest.

Me: Still doesn’t mean…..

WP: There’s more…

Me:Stop saying 'Theres more' and finish the sentence.

WP: We have an altered state of play - an altered dynamic: a combo of what happened last year (which proved Rafa can be beaten) and coming in as something other than defending champion – an altogether different prospect from defending an event you’ve never lost.

Me: And we are to believe that creates all sorts of Freudian unease within him?

WP: Maybe not, but it’s something he’s not had to face since 2005.

Me: Mmmm…..not convinced that a guy that’s just broken the record for most Masters Titles won is “vulnerable” in any sense – not on his favourite surface.

But go on.

WP: Ok here’s where it gets really interesting, because the guys that should be poised to take advantage of this -- the Djokos, the Big Robs, the Federers even -- have been all at sea. But you also have the traditional clay courters. The one’s you wrote off….

Me: When did I do that?

WP: You said – and I quote – “clay courters are still relevant though perhaps not in the clay court season – or anywhere else”.

Me: I said that?

WP: You won’t always remember everything you’ve said or done in the real world here – just like my not knowing everything you think I should know – like melted clocks?

Me: Melting clocks. You mean to tell me you’ve never heard of Dali?

WP: I’ve heard of Dali – I live the reality, or surreality he claims to know so much about – and let me tell you, melting clocks form no part of it.

Me: Can we get back to those clay courters I wrote off?

WP: Before you interrupted me with melted clocks?

Me: Before I interrupted you with melting clocks…

WP: Yes we can - it’s all to do with this idea that they’re dated and are being rapidly usurped by a newer breed of aggressive baseliners – guys like Fed-i-ra, Djoko, Sod, Delpo, Jo-Willy and the like – guys that are, incidentally, effective on every surface playing roughly the same way.

Me: Yeah I remember saying that…

WP: *stunned*...No I just said that.

Me: Yeah but you were quoting me….

WP: Was I? I must be losing track of time – lemmee just check my watch – oh sorry, it’s just melted…

Me: You know you don’t actually have to stage a trick like that to be snarky right? I am mighty impressed though. Impressed you went through all the trouble of melting a metaphysical watch.

WP: You were getting on my nerves…..

Me: Won’t do it again.

WP: Ok so these clay courters have actually had a pretty good season so far – especially Dasco and Ferru. So we have this paradox where the guys that weren’t expected to do well have a pretty good shot of making at least the quarters, though still no chance of bringing it against Rafa.

Me: ….and the guys that were expected to change the nature of clay court tennis – l’aggressives shall we call them – Sod, Djoko et al. – all falling by the wayside. The paradox being that they are at least more equipped to attempt to stage a coup against Rafa, should they get that far – which I rather suspect they won’t.

WP: All of which leaves us with an opening for a breakthrough. An opening which won’t be filled by a clay courter – no, and here’s where I begin to sound prophetic, he will rise from amongst L’Aggressives. And right now only Ernie seems to fit the bill.

Me: That is if you’re discounting the most probable outcome of Rafa winning without dropping a set?

WP: Or the second most likely outcome of Fed-i-ra coming through? Yes, thank you for reminding me – that’s exactly what I was doing – discounting the most likeliest of outcomes. This is the land of Never-Never after all – we get paid by the minute to think right out of the box. That is if the box hasn’t already been melted.

Me: Melting.

(Photo: Getty)

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